8.17.2010

End of Melville Article!

My concluding paragraph (let's pray it's not too "lyrical" for the editors of Leviathan):

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To consider Melville’s fiction, and Moby-Dick in particular, as spiritually evocative in nature requires, it is true, a leap away from typical models of literary criticism. But Melville’s own reading seems to have followed such a path: markings in Melville’s Bible show him underscoring Jesus’ parables often, and highlighting the discussions about the use of parables even more frequently. As Brian Yothers has remarked recently, “Melville’s markings [in his Bible]… indicate how his personal religious thought is inextricably intertwined with his sense of vocation as a novelist and a poet.”[1] To understand Melville’s fiction deeply, then, we must be willing to imagine—and perhaps even to experience—that which is beyond the text, that to which the text alludes. In a 2001 article on the connection between narrative and mystical experience, Catherine Garrett wrote,

…for most people, literature has more power than theory: that is, narrative reaches more people than metanarrative, even though behind every story is an earlier, greater story which gives it form. The power of narrative… comes from its ability to generate emotions to which theory can only refer.[2]

Garrett’s article focuses on the experiences of the well-known mystic, Julian of Norwich, whose mystical experience came after an extended period of personal suffering and despair. In the same vein, in William James’s chapter on “Mysticism” in The Varieties of Religious Experience, James notes that Saint John of the Cross proclaimed that the highest state of consciousness “is reached by ‘dark contemplation.’”[3] This path through challenging and deep, emotional doubt may not always yield fruit; but when it does, the result is not only a change in metaphysical perspective, but also a kind of renewal of the moral and ethical vision. This is the profound democracy—not of social class (for anyone may be initiated into this seeing, regardless of wealth or prestige or education)—but of soul. And it is for this reason the most unsettling; it promises neither perfect material equality, nor universal salvation; it destabilizes and undermines the structures of power that mainstream society takes for granted and comfortably works within; it may even have allowed the son of a bankrupt and half-mad fallen aristocrat to board a whaling ship, and learn the some of the holiest secrets of existence.



[1] Brian Yothers, “One’s Own Faith: Melville’s Reading of The New Testament and Psalms” (Leviathan 10.3 (Oct. 2008), 39-40.

[2] Garrett, Catherine. “Weal and Woe: Suffering, Sociology, and the Emotions of Julian of Norwich” (Pastoral Psychology, 49.3, 2001), 189.

[3] William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York, NY: The New American Library, 1958), 312.

3 comments:

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Where's the like button? That last sentence, with its clauses linking; the ebb and flow of waves under the ship my friend.

Casey said...

Thanks. I'm worried that the style isn't "academic" enough. But that's on purpose.

Yeah, Blogger needs a like button.

Kevin said...

Much luck--I had a piece rejected by them some time ago--and got a very nice note from the publisher that said exactly that--i.e. that it wasn't 'academic enough'.